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Why I Wrote Strongman. Facts Matter. So Does History, a guest post by Kenneth C. Davis

What makes a country fall to a dictator? How does an entire nation follow an authoritarian leader –a Strongman—down a dangerous and deadly path? How does democracy die?

These are difficult questions in ordinary times. But in recent years, as the United States has confronted serious threats to its democratic institutions, these questions have become more pressing. It is no longer an interesting academic exercise to worry about democracy. It is a grave concern that involves the very existence of our most precious rights and freedoms.

Since I was a small boy, I have always loved questions, history, and books. No surprise then that I made a career out of writing books that ask questions about history. In the past, for instance, I asked the question: “How did the men who conceived and fought for the Declaration of Independence go back to lives utterly dependent upon enslaved labor?” That question became the basis for my book In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives (2016).

Kenneth C. Davis in the studio, recording a part of the audio edition of More Deadly Than War (2018 Photo courtesy of PenguinRandomHouse Audio)

Later I asked: “How did a deadly war early in the twentieth century contribute to the worst pandemic in modern history?” The answer was explored in my book More Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War (2018).

But raising questions about dictators and the fate of democracy that form the core of my latest work, Strongman, may be the most difficult and important questions I have ever posed.

The book Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy profiles Benito Mussolini of Italy, Germany’s Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, China’s Chairman Mao Zedong, and Saddam Hussein of Iraq. My intent was to demonstrate exactly how these men were able to seize power. The book lays out the tactics and techniques they used to secure complete control over a nation – with murderous results.

For many people, these are merely names in history books. Certainly, they are notorious names. Yet who these men were and what they did is a vague memory. Today, some people make pilgrimages to the tombs of Mao, Mussolini, and Stalin – misguidedly believing them to be heroic leaders and honoring the memory of despots who caused such misery and death in their own countries and around the world. In writing Strongman, I wanted to raise awareness of what these ruthless men did. And I wanted to explore their lives and times to understand how they were able to bring millions of followers down such destructive paths.

Throughout my career, I have always contended that history is more than dates, battles, and speeches. It is the story of real people doing real things in real places. When we learn history as a human story it becomes less abstract and dry and far more meaningful. Not only does it help us to understand how the past shaped the present. But I also believe that the lessons of the past can guide us to make good choices in our own times.

Kenneth C. Davis in his New York City office during a recent webinar with school teachers.

Having written about history for some thirty years, I certainly was aware of the role these Strongmen played in shaping the modern world. But as I began to research their lives, I was surprised by how ordinary they were in many respects as young men. As a boy, Adolf Hitler loved stories of the American West and then dreamed of becoming a painter. Joseph Stalin was in a seminary school and worked for a time keeping weather statistics. Mao Zedong defied his father who had arranged a marriage for him at age fourteen and he later applied for work in a soap factory before becoming a librarian’s assistant. They were in many respects typical, rebellious teenagers who gave no clue of their vicious destinies.

My research took me down many dark roads filled with cruelty, torture, secret police, deliberate starvation, concentrations camps, and mass murder. The degradation and death that each of these men was responsible for became clearer in the horrific toll of destruction they left in their wakes. It is not an easy story to tell. But we cannot look away.

My research also revealed the way these men — and their legions of followers– were able to seize power using a playbook of tactics that many autocrats and tyrants rely on– propaganda, purges of enemies, elimination of the free press and other safeguards to basic rights, and ultimately stamping out dissent. In the process, they destroy any glimmer of hope for democracy.

For much of the thirty years since my book Don’t Know Much About® History was first published in 1990, I remained fairly optimistic about the future of democracy – both in the United States and around the world. At the time the book appeared, the Soviet Union was crumbling, the Berlin Wall was dismantled, and South Africa’s apartheid system would be vanquished. As budding democracies took root around the globe, the world appeared to enter an exciting moment in history. U.S. President George H.W. Bush even pronounced a “New World Order.” Prospects for greater freedom and more human rights seemed brighter as dictatorships fell away, replaced in many nations by “People Power.”

Finalists for the 2017 YALSA Awards ALA Midwinter, Atlanta, GA.
Left to right: Linda Barrett Osborne, the late Karen Blumenthal, Kenneth C. Davis, the late John Lewis, Gareth Hinds, Pamela S. Turner.
(Photo courtesy of Macmillan School and Library Marketing)
 

Despite the acts of terror and financial crises that followed in the early years of a new century, that optimism appeared secure when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. Like many Americans, I was surprised and gratified that the United States had made the great leap of choosing a Black man for the nation’s highest office. Whether one agreed with Obama’s political policies or not, many conceded that Barack Obama’s victory seemed to signal a new stage in American democracy.

But something changed. The steady progress toward widening freedom, especially in the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European Communist-bloc, halted somewhat abruptly. The movement towards global democracy slowed and then went into reverse. Authoritarian leaders, such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, stepped into the breach.

That movement has only accelerated over the past two decades. Populist, nationalist leaders have secured power in several former Communist countries that had emerged as free market democracies and joined the European Union.  Authoritarian leaders also took power in nations in Asia and South America.

These growing global threats to human rights, basic freedoms, and democratic principles were the reason I considered it a crucial moment to focus on how an authoritarian dictator –- a Strongman – could take control of a country and quickly dismantle democracy. How does such a leader take power? How do they win millions of willing believers? What are the tactics and techniques they use to destroy the freedoms and rights that come with democracy? And could it happen here?

Meet the author

Author Photo Credit Nina Subin

Kenneth C. Davis is the New York Times–bestselling author of Don’t Know Much About® History, which gave rise to the “Don’t Know Much About®” series of books and audios.  He is also the author of the critically acclaimed In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four President, and Five Black Lives, a Finalist for the YALSA Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction Award and a Notable Book of the American Library Association in 2017. His book More Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of The Spanish Flu and the First World War wasnamed a Notable Trade Book for Young People by the Children’s Book Council and National Council for the Social Studies.

His latest book, Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy, was published on October 6, 2020. It was named a “Best Children’s Book of 2020” by the Washington Post and among the “Best Young Adults Books of 2020” by Kirkus Reviews,

Davis has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Smithsonian magazine, among other publications. A frequent media guest, he has appeared on CBS This Morning, Today, CNN, and NPR. He was recently featured in the CNN documentary “Pandemic: How a Virus Changed the World in 1918.”

Davis enjoys both in-person and virtual visits with readers, teachers, students, librarians, and members of the general public. He lives in New York City.

Twitter: @kennethcdavis

Website: dontknowmuch.com 

Davis recommends buying books at Left Bank Books in Belfast, Maine.

© Copyright 2021 Kenneth C. Davis All rights reserved

About Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy by Kenneth C. Davis

From the bestselling author of the Don’t Know Much About® books comes a dramatic account of the origins of democracy, the history of authoritarianism, and the reigns of five of history’s deadliest dictators. 

Washington Post Best Book of the Year!

What makes a country fall to a dictator? How do authoritarian leaders—strongmen—capable of killing millions acquire their power? How are they able to defeat the ideal of democracy? And what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

By profiling five of the most notoriously ruthless dictators in history—Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Saddam Hussein—Kenneth C. Davis seeks to answer these questions, examining the forces in these strongmen’s personal lives and historical periods that shaped the leaders they’d become. 

Meticulously researched and complete with photographs, Strongman provides insight into the lives of five leaders who callously transformed the world and serves as an invaluable resource in an era when democracy itself seems in peril.

ISBN-13: 9781250205643
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: 10/06/2020
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Book Review: Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Publisher’s description

Acclaimed author of Ash Malinda Lo returns with her most personal and ambitious novel yet, a gripping story of love and duty set in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the 1950s.

“That book. It was about two women, and they fell in love with each other.” And then Lily asked the question that had taken root in her, that was even now unfurling its leaves and demanding to be shown the sun: “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”

Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the question took root, but the answer was in full bloom the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. 

America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.

Amanda’s thoughts

This will be an illuminating read for modern teens who may not know much about what it was really like to be a queer teen in the 1950s.

It’s 1954 and Lily Hu lives in San Francisco’s Chinatown. She’s heading into her senior year alongside her lifelong best friend, Shirley, who is also Chinese American. One day in a class, Lily is put in a group with Kathleen Miller, a white girl she’s known for years but never really been friends with. Something sparks between them—maybe just a new friendship, maybe a bond over being the only two girls left in their upper-level math class, maybe something more, something Lily doesn’t really understand or have the words for. It takes reading a surreptitiously reading a lesbian pulp novel in the back corner of a store for it all to finally click into place for Lily. But now what?

For Lily, there is so much more going on in her life than just beginning to understand what she may feel for Kath. The FBI takes her father’s citizenship papers when he refuses to give information on one of his patients who’s being investigated for Communist ties. Lily’s friendship with Shirley is under pressure, too. Shirley doesn’t like Lily being friends with Kath (and “warns” her about Kath) and freezes her out until she needs her help for the Miss Chinatown pageant. Lily feels the push and pull between her various identities, always feeling singled out for all the ways she is “other.”

Through repeated clandestine trips to the Telegraph Club, a lesbian bar, to see a “male impersonator,” Lily and Kath come to understand more about their identity and the nearby lesbian community, especially when they are befriended by some of the older lesbians who frequent the club. But that hardly makes anything simpler—in fact, it just complicates things. How can Lily possibly live her truth in this era? And even if she and Kath feel the same way about each other, now what? More sneaking, hiding, being afraid of being seen?

This layered story also offers brief chapters about Lily’s mom, dad, and aunt from various points in time, helping flesh out more of what was going on, historically, at this time in the United States and specifically in Chinese American relations. Extensive back matter on the era and culture at the time provide additional insight. As can be expected of a historical fiction story set in the 1950s, there are plenty of racist and outdated terms used and the story is built on a foundation of the homophobia of the time (this is also discussed in the back matter.)

The way the story ultimately unfolds may be kind of predictable in the sense that it’s probably easy to guess how things may go for Kath and Lily—it’s hardly going to be an easy road for them. Though I would have liked to see some scenes or threads of the story fleshed out more and followed through with better, this was ultimately an enjoyable and thoughtful, personal look at one girl’s journey to self and identity. Pair with Robin Talley’s Pulp (set in 1955 Washington D.C.) for an even more comprehensive look at what it meant to be a queer teen in the 50s.

Review copy (digital ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525555254
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/19/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Cindy Crushes Programming: Make and Take Crafts Including Dice Bags and Magical Lanterns

Dice Bags

This craft my coworker Linden Galloway came up with. It turned out so well. It was one of the fastest Take and Makes we ever had. My branch had theirs go within a day.

Supplies:

Felt cut into a 10 inches in diameter circle with marks 5/8 inch long each, and it must be 1/4 inch away from the edge. This should be put in the kit like this. The teen will make the cuts themselves.  Total of 24 cuts!

  • 20 inch ribbon use a thinner ribbon to make it thread easily.
  • Scissors
  • Sharpie

Instructions for Teens:

All you need is a sharp pair of scissors!

(Fabric scissors preferred)

1. Cut the circle out if not already cut out.

2) Hold the circle in front of you with the lined side facing away from you

3) Fold one edge over slightly so you can see half of one of the lines

4) Snip with the tip of your scissors in the middle of the line, but don’t cut to the edge of the fabric!

5) Unfold, and use the hole you created to cut to the ends of the line

6) Repeat steps 2-5 for all of the lines

7) Take the ribbon and weave it between the holes you created

8) Pull the ends of the ribbon to close your dice bag, tie in a bow, and enjoy! No-Sew Dice Bag

Magical Lanterns

These lanterns were done by my co-worker Faith Healy. We used our cameo Silhouette machine. You could use a cricut machine also. This is an extremely popular craft but does take a lot of prep time to cut all of the patterns. Faith found the patterns she used online.

Supplies:

  • Tissue Paper
  • Cardstock
  • Tea light

Librarian instructions: Find a lantern pattern online and print it out using either the cameo or Cricut machine.

Teen Instructions:

  1. Warning: Be gentle when assembling tissue paper and parts of the lantern are delicate and if you use too much force  it may tear.
  2. Fold along the folding lines. This will make it easier to assemble later.
  3. Use a glue stick (Any glue will do, but glue stick is the easiest and least messy) and glue the back of the lantern.
  4. Trim the tissue paper to the correct size and place the tissue paper firmly on glue side. You may also trim after gluing tissue.
  5. Fold the lantern this time and glue the tabs in place. Place glue on them and press firmly to help stick. There is one side tab and three tabs on the bottom.
  6. Place light in your lantern and Enjoy!

Teen Winter Care Kits

Our teens did not have finals so we gave them winter care kits instead. We included a hot cocoa bag, a candy cane, red and white pipe cleaners to make a pipe cleaner candy and printable snowflake kits. We found the snowflake online. This one does not take much work for the teens but it was a lot of counting and sorting. I did 45 kits. This one you could do with any season like spring you could use paper animal kits like origami, you could do peeps as candy. Find ways to make it fun and find out what your teens want and are interested in it. You could do a kindness rock if you have leftover rock. This is a great take and make to use leftover supplies.

Cindy Shutts, MLIS

Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

A Life Already Saved: The Power Librarians Hold, a guest post by B. B. Alston

I was the quiet kid with the big imagination. I lived inside my head so much that often times people would be talking to me and I hadn’t heard a single word. When you grow up in situations where you don’t have a whole lot, where every day looks like the one before it and you stop hoping things will change, because they never do, sometimes retreating into yourself is the key to surviving. Because in your head there’s no one looking down on you and there aren’t any limits. The world can become more. As much as you need it to be. More fantastic. More incredible. More exciting than what you’re used to. And then I found a library.

First my elementary school library where the teacher who noticed that I couldn’t even afford to buy one book at the book fair handed me a copy of Where the Wild Things Are and even though I was older than the target age, much older, I can remember having that “Oh” moment. That moment that said for as hard as I had imagined to that point, I had not come close to conceiving creatures so wild as Maurice Sendak. It said to me that I could borrow the imaginations of others and exist in worlds I couldn’t even fathom yet. And I longed to feel that feeling, that “wild rumpus” in my heart and mind. To have my imagination so thoroughly expanded as that.

B. B. Alston in elementary school

And then that same librarian handed me Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In fact, she had set it aside for me knowing I would come back eager for more. And in Charlie I found somebody I could wholly relate to because he was a kid who did not have much and yet he still hoped for grandness in his life. He dared to hope. There is a certain audacity that comes with hope, especially in bad times because you are essentially saying to your surroundings that you no longer see them. You are daring to see something else, a different place and circumstance even as your current circumstance laughs in your face. And when Charlie learned about that golden ticket, he went for it. And that told me that I could try too. That I should try.

I grew up. Went to college. Flunked out. Got married. Worked minimum wage jobs. Went back to college. I kept reading. And one day a friend I knew handed me Twilight. I was the typical guy about it, and like so many who bag on it and say it’s beneath them for this reason or that…I ended up reading all four books. I bought them the day they released. I had passionate discussions with my future wife about why Team Jacob was Team Settling. And it was sometime while reading those books, and defending those books, that it occurred to me that the most important job of a storyteller isn’t flowery words or perfect grammar. It’s to make the reader feel something. I looked back on all the books I’d loved and that idea seemed to check out.

And for the very first time, I thought, well maybe I could do that. I was certainly no wordsmith but I felt like I had read enough to be able to communicate what I was feeling onto the page and maybe just maybe have the reader feel it, too. I wrote an awful book, and then several more. They exist on shredded notebooks and files on my computer named “Kill it With Fire.” But I kept writing because once upon a time I had read a book that sparked my imagination, and another that taught me to dare to dream. And so I kept writing.

Eventually I’d be sitting down watching a movie I’d watched countless times before. Men in Black. And out of the blue I thought, well what if it wasn’t just aliens, what if all supernatural creatures existed? Not long after, this twelve-year-old girl with a big curly afro jumped into my head and told me in no uncertain terms that this was her story. I debated whether it really was her story because I had never read a fantasy book about a Black kid and was that even allowed? And even if it was allowed, who would want to read about a Black kid like me?

Somehow I found myself back at the Richland Public Library with my mom, and the librarian kept going on about this book she loved. It was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. But all of their copies were checked out. So I went to Amazon and read all of the praise and the great reviews. When I went to check out, it said people who buy this book also buy Dear Martin by Nic Stone. So I bought that, too. I devoured those books because for the first time I was reading about Black kids, and I knew the lingo, and the inside jokes, and they spoke the thoughts I was having every time I saw an unarmed Black person shot on the news. Every aspect of me was covered. And I had another “Oh” moment because I realized that I could leave in all the parts of myself I was taking out. It was freeing and thrilling and the next thing I knew I had written a book that got a book deal, and a movie deal, and would be published in 25 countries around the world. And I’m still reading.

I write this not to say that you as a teen librarian could hand a book to a future author but that, far more importantly, you could be handing some kid their survival. Their confidence. Their dream. I’m asking you to reach out and engage with that shy kid, that person who looks like they shouldn’t even be there, that kid who clearly would rather be anyplace else in the world. Because you have the power to change lives. To save lives. And I don’t say that to be hyperbolic, I say it as someone whose life was impacted most profoundly from people sharing with me a book they thought I might like. I say it as a life already saved.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Joshua Aaron Photography

B.B. Alston started writing in middle school, entertaining his classmates with horror stories starring the whole class where not everyone survived! After several years of trying to break into publishing, he had just been accepted into a biomedical graduate program when a chance entry into a twitter pitch contest led to his signing with TBA, 20+ book deals worldwide, and even a film deal. When not writing, he can be found eating too many sweets and exploring country roads to see where they lead.

B.B. was inspired to write AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS because he couldn’t find any fantasy stories featuring Black kids when he was growing up. He hopes to show kids that though you might look different, or feel different, whatever the reason, your uniqueness needn’t only be a source of fear and insecurity. There is great strength and joy to be found in simply accepting yourself for who you are. Because once you do so, you’ll be unstoppable. Learn more at https://www.bbalston.com and follow on social on Twitter @bb_alston and Instagram @bb_alston

B.B. recommends buying your books from The Book Dispensary.

About Amari and the Night Brothers

(check out Amanda’s review here.)

Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black in this exhilarating debut middle grade fantasy, the first in a trilogy filled with #blackgirlmagic. Perfect for fans of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, the Percy Jackson series, and Nevermoor.

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

ISBN-13: 9780062975164
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/19/2021
Series: Supernatural Investigations , #1
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

Publisher’s description

The highly anticipated next book in the New York Times bestselling, award-winning Graceling Realm series, which has sold 1.3 million copies.

For the past five years, Bitterblue has reigned as Queen of Monsea, heroically rebuilding her nation after her father’s horrific rule. After learning about the land of Torla in the east, she sends envoys to the closest nation there: Winterkeep—a place where telepathic foxes bond with humans, and people fly across the sky in wondrous airships. But when the envoys never return, having drowned under suspicious circumstances, Bitterblue sets off for Winterkeep herself, along with her spy Hava and her trusted colleague Giddon. On the way, tragedy strikes again—a tragedy with devastating political and personal ramifications.

Meanwhile, in Winterkeep, Lovisa Cavenda waits and watches, a fire inside her that is always hungry. The teenage daughter of two powerful politicians, she is the key to unlocking everything—but only if she’s willing to transcend the person she’s been all her life.

Amanda’s thoughts

What a delight to get to return to this world after all these years.

We begin with meeting a treasure-collecting sea creature, perhaps the creature the humans have mythical stories about, the Keeper, and some telepathic purple silbercows, who also reside in the ocean. They set up the initial parts of the story and draw the reader in with the mystery of what is happening and what part they will play. The reader will come back to their perspective and roles throughout the story, and for me, their small sections were among my favorite parts of the book.

When two of Queen Bitterblue’s men go missing, she decides to pursue what happened herself. Along with Giddon and Hava, she travels to Winterkeep, a democratic republic home to the Keepish people, a respected academy, advanced medicines, and powerful fuels. Their initial question, what is the Keepish interest in Monsea, grows to become many questions as they meet more people and uncover more details. Every character is complicated and richly drawn, a potential enemy or ally to Bitterblue’s crew (it’s often hard to be sure which they will be). Much of the story revolves around Lovisa, a 16-year-old Keepish girl skilled in spying, eavesdropping, observing, and skulking around. When her story intersects with Bitterblue’s, things really take off, leading the reader on an adventure full of mystery and uncertainty. I don’t want to spoil any of what happens, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the existence of telepathic foxes (who can bond with humans) in this book. They play a vital role in the story and how it unfolds and one small fox must grapple with how to control the course of events and carries the heavy burden of wondering how to keep the secrets of foxkind.

Winterkeep deals with heavy themes, many of which are common to all of the Graceling stories—love, loss, grief, trauma, manipulation, and toxic families. The biggest themes, however, are environmentalism and warfare, themes that all the humans must grapple with as they trek through Winterkeep and themes that are at the heart of what the silbercows and their giant sea creature friend must do.

While this story can be read alone, reading it in context of the rest of the Graceling Realm books would be more meaningful. This particular book also has wide crossover audience appeal. Bitterblue is 23, Giddon is 31, and Hava is 20. Lovisa and friends are the teens in the story. Parents and other adult family members of various characters also play large roles in what unfolds.

This is a story of choices and survival. It is one of bullying, gaslighting, abuse, and fear. It is about government, politics, and war. But more than anything, it is about truth, strength, warmth, love, support, and healing. This is a strong addition to the series—perhaps my favorite—and I hope we see more of this expanding world.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780803741508
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/19/2021
Series: Graceling Realm
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Friday Finds: January 15, 2021

This Week at TLT

Book Review: Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

Take 5: Book to Movie News

Book Review: #MeToo and You: Everything You Need To Know About Consent, Boundaries, and More by Halley Bondy

On Overcoming Fears and Becoming Superheroes, a guest post by Christina Li

A High School Student Reviews CONCRETE ROSE by Angie Thomas

Around the Web

“Drivers License” Made History On Spotify By Just Letting Teens Feel Things

Mortality rate for Black babies is cut dramatically when Black doctors care for them after birth, researchers say

2021 Best Fiction for Young Adults

Amanda Gorman Selected as President-Elect Joe Biden’s Inaugural Poet

Book Releases: LGBT YA Books of January-June 2021

Book Review: Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

Publisher’s description

Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black in this exhilarating debut middle grade fantasy, the first in a trilogy filled with #blackgirlmagic. Perfect for fans of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, the Percy Jackson series, and Nevermoor.

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Amanda’s thoughts

As I write this, it’s the final days of 2020 and Minnesota has decided to be very Minnesota-y and is having a rather unexpected blizzard. I’m tired and cranky and just over EVERYTHING lately. I stop and start books, I scroll on my phone, I rewatch The Office. Nothing feels interesting. But then! BUT THEN! I picked up this book. I read it slowly, delighting in every clever department name and plot twist. I got completely caught up in Amari’s world and only really set the book down to text people how great this book is. This book is stupendous.

Amari is off on a fantastical adventure after she receives a mysterious interactive recording from her missing brother. Under the guise of it being a summer camp, she goes to attend training at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, where her brother was apparently working before his disappearance. There, she’s paired up with her new roommate, Elsie Rodriguez, a weredragon and mastermind inventor, and learns that her brother was one of the most famous agents in recent history, responsible for helping bring about the end of two powerful magicians who were waging war on the supernatural world. Amari, whose aptitude and talents make it seem like she might be a hero, isn’t concerned about anything like that—she doesn’t want to be a hero; she just wants to find her brother. But when her talent is revealed to show her true abilities, suddenly Amari is seen as a potential villain, an enemy of the Bureau.

Now Amari has to prove herself to those in charge or she’ll be cut loose from the program and have her memory wiped. Staying and succeeding is the only chance she has at tracking down her brother. As Amari thinks, this is not so different from being a Black girl from the projects attending a private school (as she did). She’s used to standing out, to being judged. She doesn’t like being underestimated and will prove people that they’re wrong about her, but will have to deal with secrets, lies, blackmail, creatures, illusions, tests, and traitors along the way.

Every page of this story was a delight. Really all I want in life right now is for this whole series to be out and all the movies so I can just live inside the world of Amari and friends. I’m obsessed. Go order this right now. And get ready for it to fly off library shelves. One of the best starts to a fantasy series that I’ve read in a very long time.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062975164
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/19/2021
Series: Supernatural Investigations #1
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Take 5: Book to Movie News

Here are some recent announcements about MG and YA books being adapted to the small and big screen.

Landscape with Invisible Hand

https://www.hypable.com/landscape-with-invisible-hand-movie-tiffany-haddish/

Keeper of the Lost Cities

To All the Boys I Loved Before part 3

https://screenrant.com/to-all-boys-3-first-footage-nextflix-trailer/

Tiny Pretty Things on Netflix will get a season 2

https://screenrant.com/tiny-pretty-things-season-2-release-date-story/

List: Books to Movies 2021

Book Review: #MeToo and You: Everything You Need To Know About Consent, Boundaries, and More by Halley Bondy

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal.

Lerner/Zest. Feb. 2021. 200p. Tr $37.32. ISBN 9781541581555; pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781541581593.

Gr 6-8–Tweens and young teens learn about healthy relationships, consent, boundaries, red flags, and more in this thorough, age-appropriate book on breaking the silence around sexual abuse and harassment. Chapters cover power dynamics, definitions, myths, asking for help, being an ally, and taking action to raise awareness. The text, which is inclusive of all sexualities and genders, describes how to recognize abusive behaviors and how to avoid committing them. It also examines why people may have difficulty asking for help and why some may not pursue support. Subsequent chapters break down how to seek out help, what to expect and what you may be asked, how court proceedings may work, restraining orders, counseling, why some adults don’t offer support, and the consequences of failed justice. Sidebars of scenarios, both real and fictitious, and stories from people who experienced abuse are incorporated throughout. The discussion of relationships and consent isn’t limited to a romantic context. Examples range from not sexual or violent to extremely graphic and deeply unsettling. In “Kaye’s Story,” featured in chapter two, readers are warned that the story is not only “true” but “very disturbing.” The color illustrations of generic posed mannequins (like wooden artist’s models) detract from the personal tone and approach. This dense, intense read never sugarcoats any of the information. Repeated content warnings remind readers to only read what they can handle. Resources such as hotlines and nonprofits are listed throughout; many more are detailed in the back matter.

VERDICT A recommended resource to jump-start difficult conversations.

On Overcoming Fears and Becoming Superheroes, a guest post by Christina Li

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I was quite a shy and fearful child. Speaking up in class terrified me. I wanted to become an author, but I was scared I wouldn’t know how to write. As one of the few Asian kids in my Midwestern hometown, I was reluctant to embrace the culture of my Chinese-American immigrant family. Time and time again, I found myself hesitant to fully accept my identity, and to pursue the things I loved to do out of the fear that I wouldn’t be good enough.

At the same time, I was becoming an avid reader, and for me, books were life-changing. I read about main characters going on epic adventures across space and time, developing incredible superpowers, and facing off against lunchtime bullies and monsters alike. I read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, a Chinese mythology-inspired fantasy with a resourceful and caring protagonist that helped me fall in love with my own Asian identity. As I read these books, I realized that these fictional kids I read about had lots of fears, just like I did. Over the course of their stories, they overcame these fears, little by little, to become bold, intrepid heroes. If they could do it, I could, too.

There are so many reasons why I wrote Clues to the Universe. I wanted to write about whimsical space comics. About dealing with loss. About families, born and found. But at the end of the day, I wanted to write about fearless characters and characters who overcome their fears to achieve extraordinary things. I wanted to write about a brilliant girl scientist, Ro, who is as proud of her Chinese-American identity as she is about her passion for rocket science, and who isn’t afraid to explore the unknowns of the world around her. I wanted to write about a shy artist, Benji, who admires comic book superheroes but isn’t sure of his own place in the world. Ultimately, I wanted to write about two kids who, in their budding friendship, learn to fight for the things they care about and for the people they love, to come into their own, and to become the superheroes of their own stories.

Meet Christina Li

Christina Li is a student studying economics at Stanford University. When she is not puzzling over her stats problem set, she is daydreaming about characters and drinking too much jasmine green tea. She grew up in the Midwest, but now calls California home. Clues to the Universe is her debut novel. Find her online at www.christinaliwrites.com.
Twitter: @CLiwrites Instagram: @christinaliwrites

About Clues to the Universe

Clues to the Universe

This #ownvoices debut about losing and finding family, forging unlikely friendships, and searching for answers to big questions will resonate with fans of Erin Entrada Kelly and Rebecca Stead.

The only thing Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves more than watching NASA launches with her dad is building rockets with him. When he dies unexpectedly, all Ro has left of him is an unfinished model rocket they had been working on together.

Benjamin Burns doesn’t like science, but he can’t get enough of Spacebound, a popular comic book series. When he finds a sketch that suggests that his dad created the comics, he’s thrilled. Too bad his dad walked out years ago, and Benji has no way to contact him.

Though Ro and Benji were only supposed to be science class partners, the pair become unlikely friends: Benji helps Ro finish her rocket, and Ro figures out a way to reunite Benji and his dad. But Benji hesitates, which infuriates Ro. Doesn’t he realize how much Ro wishes she could be in his place?

As the two face bullying, grief, and their own differences, Benji and Ro must try to piece together clues to some of the biggest questions in the universe.

ISBN-13: 9780063008885
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/12/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years